Thursday, May 1, 2014

‘YOUrope Needs YOU’ Again – But What For?: A Critical Assessment of the European Parliament’s Attempt to Induce Greater Voter Participation

Grace Annan

The EU is subject to a significant change of personnel soon. Between May and November 2014, top positions in the European Parliament (EP) and subsequently the European Commission (EC) are available for successful candidates. Courtesy of the Lisbon Treaty, voters at the EP elections in May 2014 will considerably influence the choice of the next EC president as the party with the most seats will nominate the EC president for the first time in the EU’s history. Or will they? What is the true influence of voters in the choice of a post as powerful as EC president?

‘YOUrope Needs YOU’ again…
Despite billing them as different this time, questions do remain about the extent to which the 2014 EP elections are truly reducing the democratic deficit and enhancing the clout of voters to directly influence EU decision-making.

On the upside, the change of EC president nomination has brought ambitious and willing candidates earlier to the fore than previously, thus making it easier for those outside the EU bubble to familiarise themselves with top candidates early on. Apart from that, however, where is the great innovation for voters these polls?

The promoters of the 2014 EP elections may present the EP’s rise in power as fairly new. However, the clout of the EP has been rising gradually throughout the history of the European Community, culminating in the start of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. Indeed, the EP already had significant powers as regards the nomination of the EC’s college of Commissioners before the Lisbon Treaty as the case of the Italian candidate Rocco Buttiglione in 2004 shows.

… belatedly?
The main question regarding the new nomination arrangements should be: Who really benefits from it – the principal (i.e. voters across the EU) or the agent (i.e. the MEPs)?

The new voting system does the EP a lot of favours but does not change a great deal for ordinary voters in terms of decision-making power. The latest attempt by promoters of the EP elections to lure voters to the polls may be innovative. However, it comes quite late in the ongoing redefinition of EU institutional ties. Voters may understandably feel a bit like guests of honour at a party that is already in full swing since 2009. What is left for them to do? The EP has already taken very well to the EU’s era post-Lisbon Treaty as the vote on the SWIFT agreement in 2010 and on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in 2012 showed. Admittedly, EU citizens played a large role in the latter case. However, their clout in EU decision-making was arguably more channelled and thus meaningful to reducing the democratic deficit than the indirect vote of the next EC president-candidate.

A Political Choice for an Apolitical Post?
There is a further problem with the presentation of voters in the driving seat as regards the nomination of the next EC president. This move clashes with the official presentation of the EC president and college. Both are supposed to be politically neutral. Therefore, how can a procedure steeped in party politics such as EP elections produce the nominee of an apolitical post? Nor will the future EC president have a considerable moral clout over his/her college: Both are chosen indirectly – very indirectly – by ordinary voters.

Not even a political scandal could enhance the voters’ direct influence over the next EC president and his/her college. If the college had to stand down, there would not be any fresh EP elections. ‘Just as well,’ UK commentators may say with a glimpse at the level of voter turnout at EP elections. Of all the countries that joined before 2004, the UK has the lowest voter turnout at EP elections; only one in three usually go to the polls.

This Time It’s Different…
So what are voters really being asked for in the 2014 EP elections? The usual, to be blunt: To choose the next set of determined MEPs to challenge the Council, European Council and the Commission. The main difference is that the EP’s powers have been bolstered considerably since the 2009 EP elections. The incoming EP will most likely continue to make use of its newly-won powers to challenge draft texts and proposals – be they in banking, health, online activity or else. But that is not something which the results of the 2014 EP elections are ushering in. Rather, it is something the EP can thank the Lisbon Treaty for.

‘YOUrope Needs YOU’ is a slogan from 2008 promoted by the European Students’ Forum (AEGEE) to induce greater interest in EU affairs among teenagers; see:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Ashton's Egypt Opportunity

Onyekachi Wambu

There are few options for Egypt following the military massacre and crackdown. The Muslim Brotherhood will be reverting to its default position as an underground organisation - but this time with little illusions about the democratic route - so we are likely to see a deepening and violent armed conflict.

The military imposed State of Emergency will buy some time - perhaps enough for renewed diplomacy and negotiations. Catherine Ashton needs to move quickly into this slim opening. She has a direct channel to the deposed President Morsi and both sides consider her neutral. She should be seeking a power-sharing arrangement between the warring factions. It has worked elsewhere in Africa - pulling other countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe back from the brink. It would need statesmenship behaviour from both Morsi and the head of the junta, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi.

A lot is at stake for the Wests' democracy project. Continuing support of the current regime will deal a fatal blow in Africa to that democracy agenda. I am sure the generals in Nigeria are waiting to see what happens.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Britain’s Relationship with Europe – Part 2

Niall Ahern

Part 1 on Britain's relationship with Europe focused on the growing demand for a referendum to be put to the British people sometime after the next election. Since that blog in January, Cameron as predicted, has offered this to the electorate but only if the public votes Conservative and delivers them a majority in 2015. In addition to this, the EU budget negotiations resulted for the first time in a budget-cut. This was something Britain had been wanting all along but which it didn’t believe it would get, even in the days leading up-to the negotiations. However, this hasn’t resulted in any loss of interest on the issue of Europe and Britain’s relationship with it as the more recent Eastleigh by-election demonstrates. UKIP’s second place finish is a classic example of how questions on EU membership coupled with debate about immigration and the free-movement of individuals can be a vote winner. Debates like these clearly demonstrate the greater need to convince the public why it is in Britain’s interests to remain a member. In this second blog, the focus will be on why Britain should remain as part of the EU and what arguments those in favour should be putting forward to voters. Without going into a check list of what the EU has done for Britain over its 40 years of membership, this blog will focus simply on the economic and geopolitical arguments.

Pro-Europeans should be under no illusions, there is a large segment of the British public who have adverse feelings towards the EU and this number is growing. Old technical arguments about remaining in Europe for peace and prosperity do not resonate with the older voters who voted to remain in the European Community in 1975. In addition, this argument does not appeal to younger generations whose history of Europe is very different. At a time when Europe and the UK face their most prolonged economic crisis in their history, debate should instead focus on the economic and geopolitical arguments that will resonate with voters. Economically Britain has much to gain from maintaining its membership with the EU. 52% of British exports go to the EU market and it is by far the country's largest trading partner. Being located so close next to the European mainland is a fact that will never change and Britain has and should continue to take advantage of this fact. Political leaders need to continue telling voters the significant benefits of being located so close to these consumers has on the economy and being honest about the alternatives which as they currently stand, are unattractive offers for the UK. Although almost all the main parties, UKIP included, do not seriously advocate leaving the Single Market. Often those on the right of British politics argue that the UK can leave and still have the same access and rights to this market. They often idealise that Britain can become a Swiss or Norwegian model in North West Europe engaging with Europe through trade and that alone. Yet this narrative is doomed to failure in so much as the Swiss relationship with Europe is unique. It is based on bilateral deals which are complicated, time consuming and to which the rest of Europe would never agree to let an ex-EU member sign up to after it chose itself to leave the club. In contrast, Norway as part of the European Economic Area (EEA) does have access to the internal market (a key area Eurosceptics wish to engage with) however they still have to participate in the EU acquis in particular the four freedoms being the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. Furthermore Norway has to adopt this legislation but has no say whatsoever at the negotiating table when these laws are created. For a country the size of the UK this would have a significant impact and therefore it is a very unfeasible option for the country and its businesses. The economic reasons for continued engagement and membership of the EU far outweigh any of the other options currently promoted by Eurosceptics.

Staying on the economic arguments, more recently business leaders have started to come out in favour of continued British membership now that debate on membership has really come into question. Although many small and medium businesses also said they would prefer a renegotiated membership, almost all were against the idea of complete withdrawal. It's also vital to put into perspective the actual cost of EU membership to Britain which is significantly lower than many actually believe. At just over £8.91 billion annually it makes up just over 1% of the entire UK budget, very similar to the whole Education Department. The benefits of UK business being part of the EU are estimated to be worth over £200 billion per year and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimates that businesses within the EU trade twice as much with each other purely because of the single market and being able to take advantage of this. Similarly, Vince Cable makes the point that should be reiterated at a time when the UK flirts with the prospect of a triple dip recession. This is that approximately 3.5 million jobs are dependent on the UK's access to, and being part of the single market. Should Britain leave it is very likely that other EU members would not allow Britain to have the same rights or privileges economically that being a member provide. That is the point of being a member of a club - that benefits come out of this membership. The economic arguments for Britain's continued membership of the EU should be reiterated over the next few years as they are a significant reason why it should stay within the EU.

Geopolitically Britain has much to gain from being part of a regional grouping of 25% of global GDP and a population of around 750 million people. On its own Britain has a population slightly under 70 million and economy worth less than 3% of the world economy. Emerging countries economies such as China, Russia, South Africa, Brazil and India stand to overtake the UK by the latter part of this decade. The rise of these emerging nations means they will need and want a greater say and involvement in how the planet is governed. Why is it fair that a small island with a smaller population and economy should get such a significant say in this process and how the world is governed? However, put Britain regionally with the rest of the EU and suddenly its influence and legitimacy is greatly increased. There will always be arguments and issues where time needs to be taken on a policy level to reach agreement across the different member states. Yet Britain’s global ambitions fit more closely to the rest of the EU than many in the press would have Britons believe. Global trade, energy security, immigration, climate change, piracy and peacekeeping require coordinated and joined up responses. Look at the recent interventions in Libya and Mali and you can see European nations with overlapping interests, supporting each other more closely then they have in years. Look at the green arguments taking place across Europe and see that Britain is actually playing a significant role in pushing legislation forward. Geopolitically Britain has much to gain by being part of the EU. Should it decide to leave, it is quite clear to see its interests shrinking dramatically over the next few decades and with it legitimacy to be a ‘global player’ too. Of course, the debate in this sense should come down to what Britain believes its role should be in the world during the latter part of this decade and beyond. If we want to remain a global player, engaged with the rest of the world then the geopolitical arguments are something those in favour should be talking more openly about in the run up to the referendum.

The relationship between Britain and Europe has always been contested and now that there is the real possibility of a future referendum, debates are only likely to intensify. It is encouraging to see that since Cameron's announcement of the referendum some business leaders, politicians and think-tanks have come out in favour of staying. Furthermore, more recent polls following Cameron’s EU referendum pledge have shown a more positive shift on continuing Britain’s membership. By focussing on economic and geopolitical arguments for continued membership there is every chance a referendum can be won. Those in support of this continued membership now need to make this case to the British people and convince them that remaining part of the EU is certainly within Britain’s interests.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Britain’s Relationship with Europe: Part 1

Niall Ahern

Britain its time to decide-In or out?

As we enter 2013 there is one issue that seems to make the front pages year after year and that is Britain's question on whether to remain as part of the EU. It has now been 38 years since the British people were last asked this question at the ballot box and it is fair to say that there have been significant changes since then. With David Cameron about to make a speech on the future of Britain's relationship with Europe, it looks increasingly likely a referendum of sorts will be on the cards after the next election. Yet isn't it time that at least one of the three main leaders at Westminster offer the public what they really want? This being a simple question on whether Britain wishes to remain as part of the EU or not. For far too long anti-EU voices are all the public hear and it is hard to find those who have anything positive to say about the EU. However, as this two part blog focusing on Britain's relationship with the EU will set out-2013 will mark a key year when debates on our membership with Europe really become contested. The first blog will explain why Cameron (or any leader that wishes to steal the limelight from him) should offer a simple 'in/out' question when the time is right sometime early in the next parliament. The question regarding Britain’s membership has gone on for too long and the appetite for a say on the issue is only increasing. In the second blog to come in a few weeks time, the arguments for staying in the EU will be explored in more depth and by then Cameron will have set out his ideas on Britain’s relationship with Europe. Britain it's time to decide: in or out?

As things currently stand, it looks increasingly likely that Cameron's speech will offer a referendum sometime between 2015-2020 but only once our terms have been 'renegotiated' and only if the public vote for a Conservative majority. However, there are significant problems with this tactic. This will throw up problems not just for his own party by way of still not promising an in/out referendum but also with our European neighbours who he may assume allow us to repatriate powers back to Britain in return for keeping us in EU. Yet the rest of Europe will hardly wish to offer concessions to Britain at a time when they are facing more pressing matters. Another problem with this tactic is it would almost certainly hand UKIP the Euro 2014 elections and after a year when his backbenchers have become more rebellious-cause even more headaches for him in the run up-to 2015.The main party leaders need to take much more notice of public opinion such as the poll by YouGov in the autumn of 2012 which found that 67% of the British public wanted a referendum on Europe. Put more simply, we are now getting to a stage where the appetite for a referendum is getting increasingly significant and a quick look back at 2012 demonstrates this further.

The last 6 months of the year were a tipping point in an anti-EU direction. The by-elections in November were the best results ever for UKIP with the party taking second place in both Middlesbrough and Rotherham (they beat the Lib Dems and pushed them into fourth in Croydon North). Many commentators have argued that UKIP is increasingly likely to win the European elections in 2014 which is a fact that cannot and should not go ignored. In addition, polling by the Guardian in November found that for the first time, there is a clear majority of the public who would vote to leave the EU if asked today (56%). Arguably, we have heard little from the pro-EU camp at present and as with all polling data this could change if and when a debate really began. Even so, it adds weight to the argument that the country needs a proper debate on our membership with businesses, unions, politicians and those in favour really needing to raise their heads. We are already starting to see this as Cameron’s speech on Europe approaches.

Another reason why a simple in/out question should be asked is that it is incredibly naive and narrow minded of the UK to think that the rest of the EU will even allow us to renegotiate our membership further. Patience towards British demands from the EU budget to several other policy areas has run increasingly thin and it's worrying to see that many within this country haven't really noticed this as yet. Should a referendum take place that asked a question on repatriating powers (which the public would clearly vote for) there seems to be a belief in Westminster that we would get what we want. Yet it’s crucial we recognise that things are different this time round. Europe is still in recession and is by no means out of it yet. The gap between those in the north and south continues to widen and unemployment in some peripheral counties is starting to approach 30%. With issues such as these affecting millions across the continent, the debate about Britain’s membership couldn’t come at a worse time. Furthermore, there are many uncertainties with this negotiating approach that could be very detrimental to the UK's interests. Europe already perceives us to be a difficult partner having secured opt-outs from several areas that make the EU what it is. In addition, any bridges we had built in Europe over the past decade are now severely weakened as the recent EU budget negotiations demonstrated by the UK standing alone in its views. This example alone should demonstrate that we may not get anywhere in trying to renegotiate our membership at all.

In summary, the constant debates about our relationship with Europe create uncertainty and damage our negotiating hand. For too long the UK has had an obsession with whether we should remain members or not and this hasn't gone unnoticed in Europe (and the business world). The British public have not had their say on our continued membership with Europe in 38 years. With so much change since then, it is right that the public want and should get a say in the next parliament. The increasing rise of UKIP at the ballot box, combined with successive polls wanting to have a referendum or leave, demonstrate that the appetite for a say is so strong the public simply will not accept anything less. Cameron has a chance to take the wind out of UKIPs sails and satisfy his backbenchers in his speech on Europe. Other leaders could beat him to it and get credit for actually listening to what voters want. Those in favour of continued British membership of the EU need to come together now and start laying the groundwork for a referendum early in the next parliament. My second blog on this subject will discuss some of these arguments which often go overlooked. It will then be time to decide: Britain: in or out?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) the journey so far

Dr Titi Banjoko

In 2000, all member states of the United Nations and a number of international organisations agreed to work on achieving eight international Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were officially established by the United Nations by the year 2015. The goals were aimed at ensuring that every person has the right to live with dignity and access to basic socio-economic standards.

The MDGs are defined as follows
1. eradicating extreme poverty and hunger,
2. achieving universal primary education,
3. promoting gender equality and empowering women
4. reducing child mortality rates,
5. improving maternal health,
6. combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases,
7. ensuring environmental sustainability, and
8. developing a global partnership for development
Each of the goals has specific stated targets and dates for their achievement.

The MDGs have acted as a focus for governments, organisations (non-governmental and private) and individuals across the globe on minimum standards of living and interaction globally. It acted as a rallying call, and ensured that everyone irrespective of geographical location should expect these minimum standards. They enabled governments to target funding; private sectors to support various corporate social responsibility initiatives, NGOs to target areas of support and advocacy.

In 2005, the G8 finance ministers provided additional funding to speed up the progress, and multilateral organisations cancelled debts to enable Low Middle Income countries (LMIC) channel the repayments they would have been making to the fund to a number of MDG initiatives in their countries.

Lessons identified
Overall progress has been made However one of the lessons is that the high level MDG goals and the figures on progress skews the picture, it masks some of the realities e.g. many countries in Africa still have a significant number of their population living below the poverty line (MDG 1), children dying before 5 (MDG 4), and mothers dying in labour (MDG5). In some cases it can be said that the progress made is, in part, due to the easy to reach section of the population i.e. the growing middle class in Africa that emerged through economic progress rather than actually lifting sections of the population above the poverty line.

Efforts must be made to reach these sections of the population. All stakeholders need to double effort to work on lifting people who live in abject poverty and don’t experience the socioeconomic benefits expected from the Millennium Development Goals.

The score card also needs to capture the bottom of the pyramid and develop key performance indicators that demonstrate progress in this area.

Another lesson identified from the MDGs has been around funding (e.g. donor funding targeted at MDGs) has sometimes prioritise above local health priorities. Also donor funding for disease-specific programmes has worked for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and Tuberculosis but at the detriment of strengthening overall health systems and other diseases which do not attract as much international attention.

LMIC countries that had debt relief on the condition that the payment is directed on delivering MDGs need to make clear statements to the citizens of their countries and multilateral organisations on how the money has been spent and the actual outcomes to date. There is a perception that the funds have not been directed where they should and have encouraged mismanagement and corruption.

The world is now focused on coming up with Post 2015 MDG goals, a number of networks and stakeholders have started to lobby and advocate on what should be in the framework. Lessons from the 2000 MDG goals delivery and the consolidation of the fragile gains from the 2000 MDG goals should be factored into the Post 2015 framework.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

All change in Georgia’s landmark election – but little change on foreign policy

Niall Ahern

Now the post-election euphoria has settled in Georgia, it is worth thinking about what, if anything, the election of a businessman with little or no desire to be in politics prior to the election means for Georgian foreign policy. It is worth remembering that Bidzina Ivanishvili only made the pledge to a handful of coalition partners a year ago to challenge President Mikheil Saakashvili at the ballot box. Yet on October 1st he kept his pledge by defeating Mr Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) by getting 55% of the popular vote. Although it has become clearer in recent days that Mr Saakashvili will probably not be stepping down as President before his term runs out towards the end of 2013, the questions remain as to which direction Georgia’s foreign policy will now take.

Most importantly, Mr Ivanishvili has already stated in a press conference that Mr Saakashviki’s attempts to make Georgia a world player were a mistake and in the future ‘we are going to become a regional player and improve relations with neighbours, including Russia’ Considering the two nations went to war in 2008, this should be seen as a positive sign. However this is not to say that relations with the US will now be cast aside. At the same press conference Mr Ivanishvili said that his first visit would be to the US, demonstrating that fears his election would tilt influence significantly in Russia’s direction may be far fetched. It is important not to forget that Georgia is an unusual country in a region full of contrasts. Unlike some western European nations, this is a country where the EU flag flies on nearly every government building. It is a country that holds institutions such as the EU and NATO in high regard as a guarantee of security and stability. Despite the fact Mr Ivanishvili disagrees with how Mr Saakashvili went about conducting Georgia’s foreign relations, he is unlikely to completely change course with the relations already built. It is more likely Mr Ivanishvili will continue on the same path Georgia has been on since the end of the 2008 war. This is because even if Mr Ivanishvili wanted to press ahead further with EU and NATO membership at the end of 2013 as the Constitutional changes which give him more power come into effect, he would find reluctant partners to reciprocate in Brussels. With Putin back in power and making louder noises already about NATO expansion, it is highly unlikely he would ever allow this expansion on Russia’s border. In addition there are several NATO members who are unlikely to allow Georgia to join purely for not wanting to stoke tensions with Russia. Similarly, should Mr Ivanishvili go to the EU he is likely to get a cold response as the continent is still likely to be scraping through one of the most challenging periods in its history. Few if any EU leaders will have the appetite to explain to voters why we should be enlarging the EU further still.

Ultimately foreign policy under Mr Ivanishvilli is likely to be a combination of trying to pleasing all. He will continue to have negotiations with the EU and particularly NATO about future membership. He will visit the US and maintain strong ties with the nation, yet it is Russian relations where Mr Ivanishvili’s election may have the largest impact. The two countries have had no diplomatic relations following the 2008 war and this can arguably be down to the fact Mr Saakashvili is still in power. Although Russia’s Foreign Minister has said encouraging words about working with Georgia’s new Prime Minister, there is still a lot to disagree about. These disagreements are most likely to be seen on the status of the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia which Russia now recognises as independent states. The two countries both have a long way to go until relations are back to their pre-2008 levels.

Therefore despite the fact this election really was remarkable and will go down in regions history as one of the most significant, Georgia’s foreign policy will change little over the next few years. This isn’t to suggest Mr Ivanishvili will achieve little during his period in office. Georgia still faces huge problems domestically on several issues such as unemployment which has remained stubbornly high since the ‘rose revolution’. Yet on foreign issues, the international community shouldn’t expect too many differences under Mr Ivanishvili.